March 06, 2001Greetings,
Old man winter still has us in his grips and we here in the eastern United States are bracing ourselves once again for a major storm. The only solace allotted to us from the howling winds and blizzard conditions outside are the thoughts of a hearty warm meal. In other words, we are in need of some serious comfort food to warm our chilled bodies and lift our spirits after these long months of winter. Every culture seems to have comfort foods as part of their cuisine and the Italians are definitely no exception. The use of vegetables, beans, and grains are artistically and simply prepared to showcase their flavors and textures to the fullest. I especially like the full flavors of garlic, herbs, and olive oil that are so prevalent in their cuisine. My partner Ray and his wonderful family, who happen to be Italian, have taught me quite a few tricks about their style of cooking, and I am forever grateful to them for exposing my senses and tastebuds to so many wonderful new foods. So these Italian-inspired recipes are dedicated to them and all of the memories that I have of their magnificent family feasts. Buon appetito! As always, be good to one another, and remember... eat your veggies! :-)
1 narrow loaf Italian bread
Begin by slicing the loaf of bread into 1/2-inch thick slices and transfer the slices to a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned, flip the slices over, and bake an additional 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned on the other side. Allow to cool slightly. Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process to a chunky puree. Transfer to a small bowl or crock and serve on a platter with the crostini. To store extra olivada, transfer to an airtight container, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator for a month or more.
Variation: For an easy hors'doeuvre suggestion, spread the crostini with the olivada, and then decorate the tops with thinly sliced strips of roasted red pepper (store bought or see Recipe Archive), black olive slices, and basil leaves or parsley sprigs.
Yield: 1/2 cups olivada or serves 6-8 people
1 cup onion, diced
In a large pot, saute the onion and celery in olive oil for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, escarole, potatoes, frozen vegetables, zucchini, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the orzo, green onions, and parsley, and simmer an additional 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables and orzo are tender. Stir in the nutritional yeast, taste, and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.
Yield: 3 Quarts
6 cups romaine lettuce, washed well, patted dry, and roughly chopped
In a large bowl, place the lettuce, carrot, celery, cucumber, and green onion, and toss gently. Add the chickpeas, peas, corn, and 1/3 cups Mustard and Basil Vinaigrette, and toss well to combine. Taste and add additional Mustard and Basil Vinaigrette, if needed. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend, toss salad again before serving.
1/3 cup shallot, finely diced
In a small bowl, place the shallot, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper, and whisk well to combine. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and water, while whisking constantly, to form an emulsion. Add the freshly chopped herbs and whisk well to combine. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Allow flavors to blend for 15 minutes or more before serving. Use as a dressing on salads, pasta, grains, or to flavor raw or cooked vegetables.
Yield: 1 Cup
For Dough:1 cup warm water
For Filling:1/3 cup pine nuts
Begin by preparing the dough. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Stir, and set aside for 10 minutes or until foamy. In a large bowl, place the flour and salt, and stir well to combine. Add the yeast mixture and oil to the flour mixture, and stir well to form a dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, turn the dough to coat with the oil, and flip it over once to oil the top. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth, place in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
While the dough is left to rise, prepare the filling. In a dry non-stick skillet, place the pine nuts and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer the toasted pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside. In the same non-stick skillet, saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes to soften. Add the escarole and saute for 5-6 minutes or until wilted. Roughly chop the black olives. Add the chopped olives, reserved pine nuts, and the remaining ingredients, except the nutritional yeast, and stir well to combine. Continue to cook the mixture an additional 5 minutes or until the escarole is tender. Remove from the heat, stir in the nutritional yeast, and set aside to cool.
Lightly oil (or spray with a light mist of oil) a 9-inch springform pan and set aside. When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down, turn it out on to a work surface, and knead it lightly. Remove 1/3 of the dough and set aside. Roll out the 2/3 portion of dough to form a 14-inch circle. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared springform pan, and ease it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Spread the cooled filling evenly over the dough. Roll out the remaining 1/3 of dough to form a 10-inch circle. Carefully place the circle over the filling.
Moisten the edges of the top piece of dough with a little water and pinch the edges of the two layers of dough together to seal in the filling. Roll the edges of dough downward to form a decorative border all around the outer edge of the pie. Using a fork or sharp knife, decoratively make slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Using your fingers, lightly brush the top with a little additional olive oil or soy milk. Bake at 375 degrees for 45-55 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove the ring from the springform pan. Transfer to a large plate or platter and cut the pie into 8 wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: One 9 x 13-inch pie or 8 wedges
6 cups summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices
Place the summer squash slices in a steamer basket and steam for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Transfer the slices to a plate and set aside. Place the zucchini slices in the steamer basket and steam for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Lightly oil a large casserole dish. Alternately layer the summer squash and zucchini in the casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 t. garlic powder and season with salt and pepper, to taste. In a small bowl, place the remaining garlic powder and remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine. Sprinkle the mixture over the vegetables and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on top.
1 lbs. cannellini beans, sorted, and rinsed
In a large pot, place the cannellini beans, bay leaf, thyme, and sage, add enough water to cover the beans by two inches, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Drain any extra cooking liquid from the beans and save for use in soups or stews. Return the cooked beans to the pot, remove the bay leaf and discard it, and set beans aside. In a non-stick skillet, saute the onion in olive oil for 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2-3 minutes or until both are tender. Add the sauteed onion mixture and remaining ingredients to the cooked beans, and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Add a little of the cooking liquid, if desired, for a moister product. Transfer to a large bowl for service.
1 1/2 lbs. beets, peeled, and cut into wedges
Lightly oil a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish. Place the beets in the bottom of the casserole dish and drizzle the olive oil over them. Sprinkle the chopped thyme, salt, red pepper flakes, and pepper over the top, and lightly toss the beets to evenly coat them with the oil and seasonings. Spread them out to evenly distribute them in the casserole dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, stir, and bake an additional 20 minutes. Add the cloves of garlic to the pan and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until the beets are tender and the garlic is soft. Remove the cloves of garlic from the pan, and when cool enough to handle, peel them. Place the garlic cloves in a small bowl and mash them with a fork. Remove some of the oil that collected on the bottom of the pan, add it to the mashed garlic, and stir to form a smooth puree. Pour the mixture over the beets and toss well to combine. Transfer to a large bowl for service.
2 cups onion, diced
In a large saucepan, saute the onion and red pepper in olive oil for 3 minutes to soften. Add the garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. Add both types of mushrooms and saute for 5 additional minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and stir well to combine. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Add the basil and parsley and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed. Serve as a sauce for pasta, polenta, grains, or main dishes.
Variation: add a little red wine to the simmering sauce, if desired.
8 cups water, divided
In a large saucepan, place the water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and reduce the heat to medium. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining water and polenta. Slowly add the polenta mixture while whisking constantly to avoid lumps, and continue to cook while whisking for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture starts to thicken. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally with a spoon, for 30-40 minutes or until very thick and smooth. Add the nutritional yeast and Spectrum Spread and stir well to combine. Taste and add additional salt, if needed. Transfer to a large platter or bowl for service. Serve the polenta with your favorite sauce or cooked vegetables.
Variation: Add your choice of chopped herbs to the polenta for extra flavor.
1 cup hazelnuts
Place the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until fragrant. Remove the hazelnuts from the oven and increase the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees. Allow the hazelnuts to cool slightly, then place them on a towel, enclose them with the towel, and rub the hazelnuts with the towel to loosen their skin. Transfer the hazelnuts to a cutting board, roughly chop them, and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together both types of flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, place the maple syrup, 1/2 cups safflower oil, vanilla, and almond extract, and whisk well to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. Fold the chopped hazelnuts into the dough.
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set one aside for later use. On the remaining cookie sheet, shape the dough into two logs that are 2 1/2 inches wide. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown and feel firm and dry. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, transfer the logs to a cutting board, and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch thick slices. Divide the slices between the two cookie sheets, standing them upright, and spacing them an inch apart. Bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until dry and crisp. Allow cookies to cool.
While the cookies are cooling, prepare the chocolate coating. In the top of a double boiler, place the chocolate chips and remaining 2 T. safflower oil, and cook over low heat until chocolate chips have melted. Stir the melted chocolate chip mixture until smooth. Dip one of the cut sides of each biscotti into the melted chocolate and then place them chocolate side up on a rack. When you have finished coating all of the biscotti, place the rack in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate coating to harden fully. Store the biscotti in an airtight container.
Yield: 20-24 biscotti
1 Quart soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice
In a large saucepan, place all of the ingredients, except the chopped chocolate bar, and simmer over low heat for 5-7 minutes to thoroughly dissolve the agar-agar flakes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream maker per machine instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, fold in the chopped chocolate bar, and allow to freeze 20 minutes or more before serving.
Or if you don't have an ice cream maker, pour the mixture into a large shallow pan, and place in the freezer. Stir the mixture every hour or so to give it a smooth texture. When completely frozen, remove it from the freezer, and allow it to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and fold in the chopped chocolate bar. Return the mixture to the freeze and freeze until solid. Serve as an accompaniment to cakes, pies, desserts, or as a refresher.
Yield: 1 1/2 Quarts
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